A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about parents splurging on summer fun for their kids — expensive birthday parties, all-out road trips — partly to make up for lost joy. at the start of the Covid pandemic. It’s an understandable urge. Our children have missed a lot over the past few years; why not spoil them if we can?
But my kids don’t seem to have been looking for a spectacular summer. Rather than craving the extraordinary treat, they seem absolutely thrilled to be able to do all the normal things this summer, uninterrupted. Sleeping at a friend’s house, commonplace in 2019, now has a special glow. Picking them up from school is a mixed bag in terms of day-to-day moods, but when I pick them up from camp, they’re vibrant – chattering about the kinds of healthy activities (Kickball! Color Wars! S’mores!) that one imagines in superficial dreams of having children, the ones that would end up in a glossy pamphlet on parenthood.
Perhaps the happiest I’ve seen them, however, was on a family trip to Coney Island. If you’ve never been there, it’s not a Disneyfied theme park. It is the opposite of fantasy. I say that with love, but it’s flavored with hot garbage, like many parts of my beloved New York in the summer. And yet, I have never seen my children so delighted, experiencing the childhood joy of a transcendent purity that is so difficult to recapture as an adult. My eldest discovered the roller coaster and can’t get enough of the famous Cyclone. I almost wish I could bottle that feeling of freedom and serve it to him as a seaside remedy for anxiety.
This year, I asked readers what they plan to do this summer to help their kids find some of that boundless joy. Here’s what they had to say:
I committed to spending long lazy days at the pool. My kids love it – they’re free, comfortable, happy to play (and thankfully expending their endless energy). We’re making a few trips this summer to see family and friends we’ve been away from for too long, but the pool will be our source of joy. Simple and easy. Ice cream and pretzels during the adult swim. Layers of sunscreen, chlorine, pool water and very few rules. They can be children fully and entirely.
—Ashley Latimer, Silver Spring, Maryland.
The summer joy for our family will be vacations we’ve missed for the past two years: returning to my husband’s summer town, where his father (an artist) and mother (an author) spent every summer from the late 1960s. We realized that creating family memories is so important, and that extends to building family history.
During the pandemic lockdown, we browsed through years of old photos, and because of that, our young adult children pushed us to honor their grandfather’s legacy by showing his art to honor his 100th birthday. (He died in 1986.) Each of our children helps make this possible, something that might not have been created if we hadn’t lived together 24/7 in 2020. A gallery of art will show his work.
My children never knew their grandparents, and seeing so many people lose loved ones over the past few years has made our children want to keep their legacy alive and capture stories.
— Karen Rappaport McHugh, Santa Monica, CA.
I love the idea of kids and pure, pure joy and think about it a lot. A lot of it is small things. Just this week, I’ve enjoyed watching them run mindlessly through the playground sprinklers. A few days before, we had spent four hours sitting in the playground sandbox digging with plastic water bottles.
For a great summer trip, we are visiting Yellowstone with my wife’s college friends. From my own experience of visiting as a 5 year old, I know the park itself won’t be a highlight for the kids – it’s more for the parents. But for them, the highlight, the moments of pure happiness, will be playing with the other children. Our friends all have kids around the same age, and at our annual get-togethers, the kids’ tribe takes charge of the rental we’re staying in and have fun.
We will also take a short trip to the beach. It’s a joy to watch the kids enjoy the sand all day, find fun building sand castles or flipping rocks, watching little sand crabs scurry around.
—Ben Ho, New York